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December 20, 2019

20% of vehicle inspections in Virginia reveal defects

Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury
Gov. Ralph Northam proposes eliminating a requirement that all vehicles undergo an annual safety inspection.
It’s a very well-respected program across the country. And I think our concern is over safety.
— Virginia Automotive Association Executive Director Steve Akridge
2020 General Assembly
• Convenes: Wednesday, Jan. 8

• Adjourns: Saturday, March 7

• Website:

Fauquier’s legislators

• Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-27th/Upperville).

• Del. Michael Webert (R-18th/Marshall).

• Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-31st/Woodbridge).

• Del. Mark Cole (R-88th/Fredericksburg).
By Graham Moomaw
Virginia Mercury

Almost one of every five vehicles inspected in the state last year had defects that required immediate repairs or a rejection sticker, according to Virginia State Police data.

This week, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed scrapping state-mandated vehicle safety inspections, drawing new focus to a decades-old program meant to ensure cars travelling Virginia roads are in reliable condition. The Northam administration has pointed out that most other states don’t require inspections and says there’s little data showing inspection programs improve public safety.

Whether inspections do or don’t have an impact on crash rates, the state police data show the program forced fixes to be made to more than 1.6 million vehicles in 2018.

More than a million vehicles were found to have a “critical” problem and had to be repaired before they could be driven away from the shop. Almost 579,000 vehicles failed inspection and were marked with a rejection sticker that allows repairs to be made within 15 days.

In total, of the 8.2 million vehicles inspected, 1.6 million had defects, or roughly 19.9 percent.

The most common type of defects in 2018 were problems with steering and suspension, followed by emissions/exhaust systems. Almost 725,000 vehicles had faulty brakes.

The Virginia Automotive Association, which represents auto repair and tire shops throughout the state, said those numbers show that scrapping the inspection program would put more than a million “unsafe” vehicles on the roads that weren’t there before.

“The statistics speak for themselves and we have very strong concerns over the governor’s initiative,” the automotive association said in a statement this week.

In its October newsletter, the group was still giving updates on the impacts of a bill that passed in the 2019 session to raise the inspection fee from $16 to $20 and how to combat a trend of inspection stickers being stolen from repair shops and sold on the black market for “up to $100.”

Steve Akridge, the executive director of the automotive association, said his group was not consulted on the proposal before it was announced this week. 

“It’s a very well-respected program across the country,” Mr. Akridge said. “And I think our concern is over safety.”

The numbers also show that the program — overseen by the state police — generates significant business for the auto repair industry.

The governor’s office said state transportation officials studied nationwide crash data from 2008 to 2017 and found “no connection between highway safety and safety inspections.”
That review, according to the governor’s office, said the crash rate in states without inspections declined by about 8 percent over that time period, but in Virginia the crash rate declined by about 2 percent. Of the 10 states with the lowest crash rates, Northam officials said, only three require inspections.

“The governor is committed to increasing highway safety across Virginia. That’s why he’s successfully advocated to strengthen the Move Over law and reduce distracted driving through implementation of a ban on hand-held devices in work zones,” said Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky. “A proposal with proven traffic safety components will be a part of this legislation and will be shared when it is announced.”

Eliminating the mandatory inspections and the $20 fee could save Virginia motorists about $150 million a year, according to the Northam administration.

It’s not yet clear how the General Assembly will react to the plan to do away with inspections.

“It seems like it’s a very popular, populist position to take,” said soon-to-be House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County).

“I heard it for the first time yesterday that 34 states don’t do it,” said Del. Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax). “You can’t prove it in any of the accident rate figures. So I’ll be looking at it with heavy scrutiny.”
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Patriot john · January 1, 2020 at 10:05 pm
Is it just me, or is this the dumbest governor we’ve had in decades? Worrying about saving Virginians 150 million a year, but wants to raise gas taxes. Let’s trade one tax for another and the people won’t even realize they’ve been screwed by the Democrats again. Hopefully at the end of his term he will disappear from va politics forever. One less idiot in Virginia government.
Jessica · December 26, 2019 at 2:20 pm
Jessica · December 26, 2019 at 2:20 pm
I liek ti
SteveM · December 20, 2019 at 5:00 pm
What the state allows Inspection Stations to charge for an Inspection comes no where near what the actual labor costs are. Unless an inspection generates additional work as part of the inspection, then the dealer loses money on each one. Its obvious that state inspections are profitable to the industry or they wouldn't participate.

ToddM is correct that the rules and limits are fairly loose. Much is left up to the Inspector's interpretation. I had a vehicle once that failed because the drivers seat was "loose". The inspector claimed that the "spot welds" were broken and that the entire seat assembly had to be replaced. I took my car home and discovered that the seat mounting bolts were loose. I tightened them up and I easily passed the re-inspection. There were no broken "spot welds." Now was the inspector incompetent or dishonest? I don't know, but neither was good. I don't use that dealer anymore.

You want a state inspection system? Figure out some way to remove the incentive for the inspector to find fault where there isn't any.

Todd M · December 20, 2019 at 2:17 pm
If you think no annual State inspections are a good thing, take a short drive across the West Va state line, look at the crap on the roads there. They have NO vehicle inspection at all.

Also, in the not too distant past Va inspections were every 6 months which was too often as cars and trucks in this area generally speaking are better maintained. So that has improved.

Lastly, I was a Virginia State inspector and the rules and limits are fairly loose. In other words, if something mechanical failed state inspection it was ready to fall apart.
AngryBob · December 20, 2019 at 11:38 am
When your car fails inspection, take it somewhere else and it will fail for an entirely different reason.

That tells you all you need to know about the VA state inspection program.
NathanJ · December 20, 2019 at 11:24 am
My car is in the shop for ~2-3 yearly oil changes, each time I get the FREE multi-point inspections when on the lift. Same checks done as would be on an annual.
Tony Bentley · December 20, 2019 at 10:42 am
I think it's a good thing to have annual inspections. It would be one thing if we were in some place where the population was low like rural mid-west, yet where we have people flying down the interstate at 80 miles per hour with hundreds of people around them, then their tire blows or muffler falls off, etc, it won't be only that person that is involved.

One issue I do have with some shops that do inspections is that they try to push you to do maintenance that isn't part of the inspection itself, repairs that many people can do themselves. Second opinions are a good idea.
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